Local council officers and elected members regard neighbourhood websites as the most useful online channel, above others such as Facebook or Twitter, according to our latest survey results. The level of awareness of these sites has increased significantly over the past year. The survey report suggests an increasing need for council guidance on how to interact with sites.

This is the second Networked Neighbourhoods survey of council officers and elected members. Our first was conducted a year ago and the report is available here. See also Section 4 of our 2010 main study, ‘Relations with councils‘.

Key findings

  • Neighbourhood websites are valued as the most useful online channel, above others such as Facebook and Twitter, by officers and elected members.
  • Those claiming that they are aware of one or more neighbourhood sites in their area increased from 63 per cent in 2010 to 84 per cent for members, and from 55 per cent to 92 per cent among officers responding.
  • The proportion of members who perceived local sites to be negative dropped 5 per cent, from 17 per cent a year ago.
  • Nonetheless, in 2011 the proportion of members who feel that relationships with sites can be described as ‘co-operative’ is about 50 per cent, compared to two thirds in 2010. Among officers the trend is in the other direction: from 53 per cent in 2010 to 67 per cent this year.
  • Some 90 per cent of members feel that they should read and contribute to neighbourhood websites as active participants, compared with 65 per cent in 2010.
  • Members and officers recognise a broad range of pro-social and co-productive roles, such as ‘quickly identifying issues of concern for residents’, acting ‘as a link to council online services’ and ‘sharing council news and information on council services and events’.
  • Officers and members reported more concern about getting involved in protracted or discordant conversations than in 2010.
  • Internal barriers within councils are still constraining their ability to take advantage of neighbourhood websites. These include restrictions on the use of the internet, the lack of council clarity on responsibility for interacting with the sites, and the lack of council guidance.

Some of these barriers (such as internet skills and access) are practically soluble within authorities without much difficulty. The other barriers call for an informed awareness-raising approach, which requires the leadership of agencies representing the local government sector.

Hugh Flouch, Kevin Harris